Saturday, June 11, 2011

Durham and Camden Markets

Soooo... Still haven't seen a squirrel. I've been told I should go and stand in a park with a handful of nuts. I might try that, when I really get desperate. I would love a pet squirrel, though apparently they're not very trainable. At the moment I suppose I can settle for an acrobatic hamster that hides under floorboards.

My lovely hostess was driving up to Durham on Monday to retrieve Indiana Jane, and I was invited along. In four hours we were most of the way to Scotland, and drawing into Durham (which is much smaller than I thought, with most of the population being students).

Durham has an amazing castle and cathedral together on a hill above the river, and most of the streets are winding and cobbled with no cars allowed. We took a walk into town and crossed a stone bridge built in 1160, then made our way up to the Norman cathedral (1080). Indiana Jane mentioned that the side aisles had been used as backdrops for the Harry Potter movies, and I took another look at them. Yes, the carvings did look very Harry Potter-ish. You can look right up into the echoing bell tower, and the ropes for the bells were hanging right there in the corner. I must admit I thought about pulling them...

Indiana Jane was great, being very knowledgable about the cathedral and other such archaeological/historical things. Before the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, the cathedral was covered in incredible painting, bright colours and gold leaf splashed across the walls, and icons in the alcoves. It must have looked absolutely incredible (not that it isn't incredible even now). Most of the paint and sculptures were scraped away from the stone and destroyed, which explains the gouges in the interior walls, but there's one wall below the bishop's seat that was only whitewashed. The whitewash has been stripped away, and you can see the most amazing colours and detail beneath. So much work by so many people so long ago.

We had a few minutes before the castle tour started, so Indiana Jane took me into the cloisters. She didn't warn me that these also had been used as sets in Harry Potter, so I stood stunned in the doorway for a few seconds before following her. Years ago, I'm pretty sure I spent hours flying a broomstick around this space in a Playstation game, and it was surreal to actually be there.

The castle tour was just about to start, so we went back across the green and through the castle gate. The castle is currently being used as student accomodation (imagine living there!) so we passed lots of people enjoying their freedom after exams. As we went past the great hall, there was an orchestra in it playing themes from Star Trek. Again, surreal. We saw the kitchens with the original Norman fireplaces, ancient treasure chests and horse saddles, and climbed up the Black Stairs. These were originally a flying staircase, which means that they were supported only by the tower wall inside which they spiral, but they started to sag and supports had to be added. The stairs still sag towards the middle, which makes walking up them a bit scary. I kept thinking they'd collapse beneath me.

We finished the tour in the Norman Chapel, which was dark and atmospheric and happened to contain the earliest portrayal of a mermaid in Britain.

It's incredible to think of generations of people coming through these places, sitting in services and staring about them in awe. So many memories, so many lives lived that we'll never know about.

I had a great time in Durham. This post is getting rather long. I also want to talk about the Camden markets, so hang in there.

I got the tube and was a bit worried to hear the PA system advising everyone to get out of Camden station as quickly as possible - was there a bomb? a fire? No, there were just so many people that they had to get out pretty quick so the next load of tube-crawlers could fit into the station. The escalators had all been commandeered for up-duty, and if you were leaving Camden you had to take the spiral stairs down to the platform.

I'd been expecting a market. There were multiple. Each with so many stalls you got lost wandering through them, and food everywhere and bricks and hidey-holes and soo many people. At every corner I saw something I wanted, or I wanted to get for someone else. Dresses and bags and leather-bound books and hats and t-shirts and coats and everything was so pretty or wry or just eye-popping. I am so doing my Christmas shopping here.

There seems to be a theme of giant statues. I saw giant Native Americans, giant dragons, giant robots (awesome awesome shop with flashing lights and UV and dancers on balconies) and some kind of jetfighter half-buried in a building. I'd forgotten to take my camera, but I got few shots on my phone. I am definitely coming back here, and I hope the stalls I've earmarked don't change position too much in the time I'm gone.

I got a skewer of strawberries dipped in chocolate and covered in almonds, which made passersby stop and say 'yum, did you see that?!', and watched a canal boat from the bridge over the canal. Some guys on bicycles went past, dressed in berets and white face paint and striped jerseys. Their accents were English, but one of them said 'bonjour' to a girl going past, and she said 'ohh, they're French' as if that explained everything.

I will have you know that this post is under a thousand words. Have a good week!

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